THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2014: LIVE ACTION. It is a happy thing, tinged with sadness, to have the opportunity to see these shorts in a theatrical setting. Anybody who makes movies cut their teeth on short-form experiments; they represent imagination directly expressed, unburdened by the need for three-act story structure or overarching character development. They are "The Movies" encapsulated: exercises in the joyousness and energy only this medium can summon. The sadness, then, is that we are offered so few opportunities to enjoy shorts in any sort of structured format. The low financial risk involved, critical to their creative vivacity, also means there is precious little profit to be made by studios or distributors. As such, there is little incentive to bring short movies to light. Our collective happiness as an audience certainly doesn't seem to be a factor.
But even we, the low-spending rural public, have a short opportunity to participate in this conversation. This week the Minor will show Oscar nominated animated shorts, but it's worth keeping an eye out for the DVD of these live shorts already come and gone.
The Oscar nominees are comprised of five shorts, ranging in length from seven to 30 minutes. In this format, they are padded out with interstitial talking-head material from luminaries like Steve McQueen (director, 12 Years A Slave) and Matthew Modine (actor, Full Metal Jacket). I'm not sure the commentary really adds anything to the experience of the featured movies, but I suppose it does work as a sort of self-congratulatory palate-cleanser.
The opener, Helium (Denmark, directed by Anders Walter) is a melancholy fairy tale about euphemisms for child death. A young boy's health rapidly deteriorates in a hospital. A kindly orderly takes it upon himself to construct a mythological, titular land to which the boy will be taken by zeppelin when he goes to sleep for the last time. Patiently plotted, big-hearted and well-acted, this one took home the Oscar. A little too earnest and stylistically simple for my taste, but clearly a crowd-pleaser.
The Voorman Problem (UK, directed by Mark Gill) offers a visually striking dystopian near-future or alternate reality in which a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) finds himself in over his head when he is tasked with interviewing a prison inmate (Tom Hollander) claiming to be God. This one is darkly funny, but likely too existentially bleak for some.
Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything, France, directed by Xavier Legrand) impressed me the most of all. A brutally concise, breathlessly paced examination of the hours in which an abused woman gathers her children, prepares her finances and attempts to escape her situation. The actors are universally excellent, and Legrand throws us right in there with them, refusing to tell us more than he needs to unfurl his narrative. This is more intense than the vast majority of mainstream thrillers, and its violence is only ever implied, a testament to the strength of its craft.
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me, Spain, directed by Adrian Crespo) strikes me as the token political comment of the bunch. It is still very well made and emotionally effective. But the story of a boy-soldier killing for the first time has been told before, and it's a story that deserves fuller treatment than a short can provide.
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, Finland, directed by Selma Vilhunen) seems almost like it was made specifically to cap off this group of movies. By far the shortest, it tells the gleefully disastrous tale of a family who, after oversleeping, has to make a mad dash to the get to a wedding on time. As so often happens in real life, nothing seems to go their way when they need it to the most. Mom can't find the wedding gift, Dad spills coffee all over himself, the girls dress in Halloween costumes; and that's just the first three minutes. Because this is so decent and funny, doing so much with so little, I'd almost give it the edge over the French entry. Almost.
NEED FOR SPEED. Video game adaptations fly in the face of everything I hold dear in cinema. (In a way, they are diametrically opposed to shorts like those described above). But I'm also a diehard racing movie fan, and think Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) deserves a shot at stardom as much as anybody. So I kept my expectations appropriately balanced.
And then I had the most fun I've had at the movies so far this year. It's early days yet, I know, but Need for Speed so far outstripped anything else I've seen in terms of sheer, pre-adolescent giddiness that I can barely contain myself. I should also say that, narratively, it's pretty ludicrous. But that's part of the fun: If you can't appreciate a good B-actioner on its own terms, what is it that you do like?
What surprises me the most is that this actually manages to add something new to the visual vocabulary of car chase cinema with its camera angles and its genuine reverence for car culture. That may not sound like a watershed moment to some, but for some of us, that's how deep this particular vein of nerdiness runs. PG13. 130m.
— John J. Bennett
2014 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORT FILMS. All five little movies that got the nod: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom. NR. 102m.
DIVERGENT. In a Myers-Briggs dystopia that divides its youth by character traits, Beatrice doesn't quite fit in. Once she uncovers a conspiracy, things get all Hunger Games. PG13. 139m.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED. The Muppets hit Europe and encounter doppelgangers, jewel heists and celebrity cameos. With Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey. PG. 112m.
WIND RISES. Hayao Miyazaki's newest animated feature imagines the life of a WWII fighter plane engineer. PG13. 113m.
3 DAYS TO KILL. A bored Kevin Costner as a CIA tough guy on one final assignment to save his own life and spend quality time with his daughter. Not the Luc Besson action movie you hoped for. PG13. 113m.
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Xerxes returns in his golden booty shorts to battle a legion of Greek abs. The convoluted 300 sequel has a few good action sequences, but the comic writing is tragic. R. 102m.
FROZEN. Kristen Bell in some standard Disney Princess fun with Josh Gad as a slapsticky snowman. PG. 108m
LEGO MOVIE. Underdog, villain, evil plan, destiny, heroism, jokes — the usual stuff, but with Legos! PG. 100m.
MONUMENTS MEN. Clooney's squad of artists and curators liberate art from the Nazis. A rousing and impressive detective story. PG13. 118m.
MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN. Charming and fun animated adventure about a brainy cartoon pooch named Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell), his adopted human son and a time rift. PG. 92m.
NON-STOP. Neeson on a plane! Fine performances from Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson take action/suspense to higher altitudes for a smart, entertaining movie. PG13. 106m.
POMPEI. If there's a volcano in the first act, you shouldn't have to wait through so much clichéd romance and gladiator kitsch before it goes off in the third. PG13. 100m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill